Thought Leadership

Best Practices in Global Comms: A Conversation With ZF Group’s Christoph Horn

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July is Global Affairs Month at PRSA. Learn more about the programming here.

Christoph Horn is senior vice president of corporate communications and marketing at ZF Group, a global technology company supplying systems for cars, commercial vehicles and industrial technology, headquartered in Friedrichshafen, Germany.

He grew up in Germany, Belgium and the United States and has worked as a journalist and with various companies including General Motors Europe and Adam Opel AG. Prior to ZF, he led international communications and launches at DaimlerChrysler and was head of communications for Mercedes-Benz Car brands for many years.

Christoph HornAs a CCO/CMO, what best practices are you seeing globally with your teams?

After the first year of COVID we reorganized communications and marketing at ZF. Sharing best practices among the teams was one driving element. Another was to react to de-globalization with a more resilient organization.

At the beginning of 2022 we started with a new organizational setup and a global leadership team that now includes regional leaders from North America and Asia Pacific as well as divisional leaders from the bigger divisions.

Can you describe an example where local practice and need for nuance might trump how things are done globally? How much flexibility do you give local teams?

With the new structure, the regional practices are shared at the highest level in the organization. Local teams get all the flexibility they need because they are close to the business. There is less flexibility when it comes to corporate identity/design and brand issues. This is an area where we feel that central governance is required

My clients in China rely heavily on super app WeChat, developing interactive content and driving sales with intricate, yet simple content that allows for interaction and sometimes the ability to purchase items in-app. Can you describe your approach to WeChat in Asia and are you seeing an equivalent anywhere?

Our team in Asia-Pacific expertly uses WeChat and other social media channels to inform and interact with different stakeholder groups. They tap into global content, pick and choose and then tailor it to meet regional requirements. This content is then shared with global teams and sometimes translated to work in corporate or other regional social media channels.

Are you optimizing global workflow by using time zone differences to your advantage?

Yes, and we also ask regional teams to co-lead or lead global activities in their region. In a world with travel restrictions, it doesn’t make much sense to run a Shanghai Auto Show project or a customer TechDay from (ZF HQ) Friedrichshafen.

Are there cultural moments like holidays that your global teams have really embraced internally and on social and perhaps moments that are not so global where the local team has flexibility but content isn’t shared globally? Do you have guidelines around how far and wide you recognize religious holidays?

We respect all regions and their holidays but in communication, we focus on our company’s values and principles which include accountability, anticipation, empowerment, passion and diversity. These are universal for ZF‘s employees and connect all of us at ZF. If you are interested have a look here.

How much content is your team producing and adapting for local markets? Do you have an 80:20 rule to maximize efficiency? 

We are a technology and B2B company with strong divisions that support us in creating content for customers, media and other stakeholder groups. Most strategic content comes from the corporate team but the trend in the divisions — especially in the electric Powertrain and commercial vehicle divisions — is to contribute more and more.

Are there interesting best practices in crisis mitigation that you’re either taking to markets or learning from them?

Experiences and good ideas are always shared. If a crisis has a potential to go global, we deal with it with a crisis team that represents all areas of the company.

Are some markets more resistant to U.S./HQ efforts to celebrate inclusion? How do you manage that? 

Isn’t the question whether a globally operating company can expect that all central initiatives are accepted by its teams everywhere in the world? I guess you can’t promote diversity without respecting cultural differences. That doesn’t mean such initiatives should not be promoted — it means that you may have to accept ignorance and push-back and start to engage in a meaningful dialogue.

Any trends in giving and CSR globally that either you are sharing with markets that have come from HQ, or that you are learning from regions/markets?

We have a global CSR campaign by the name of ZF Helps. It is centrally orchestrated and the regions can bring their own activities under its wing. In times of crisis, we have experienced unprecedented solidarity in the ZF organization. Our ZF colleagues in the German Ahr Valley were hit by a devastating flood last year.  ZF and its global teams donated more than a million Euros to help and donations came from as far as China and Japan.

Hale Global Communications founder Trevor C. Hale helps companies and leaders articulate and amplify their stories. Having led global communications for Fortune 100 companies in APAC, EMEA and the Americas, he now collaborates with clients and firms across mobility, AI, crypto, leadership, ESG and luxury sectors. He is the 2022 PRSA international assembly delegate.

[Photo credit: metamorworks]

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Trevor C. Hale

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